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The Expectation for Children

Why do modern parents tolerate the tantrums, rudeness, defiance, and rebellion of their children? Why do they pursue a policy of appeasement, often handling a defiant outburst with a piece of candy or a new toy? Blame can be laid at the doorstep of the anti-spanking experts who have polluted the culture by making corporal punishment synonymous with child abuse, thereby creating justifiable fear in parents that public disciplining may get them in trouble with the law or Child Protective Services. While there are a number of societal causes that contribute to the status quo, much needs to be laid at the doorsteps of the church that fails to teach God's law-word in its fullest application.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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[Editor’s note: In attempting to push the pendulum back from the feminist extremes it has reached under humanism’s sway, Andrea Schwartz often couches her argument in very strong terms. This provokes people to serious thought, even if Andrea overcompensates for the existing cultural bias (perhaps most obviously in the section entitled “Ready Or Not”). The value of initiating a long-overdue reassessment outweighs the element of controversy. Such essays thus serve an important general purpose even if the Biblical position was arguably overshot in some particulars. When iron sharpens iron, each piece of metal gives up something of itself in that process: namely, those assertions that don’t pass scriptural muster. We would be blind to these issues entirely were it not for those like Andrea willing to take the heat in confronting them. Refining the Biblical parameters will inexorably follow as the pendulum shifts closer to its final position over time.]

It is painful to witness a young child ordering his parents around. The only thing more painful is to witness the child's parents (many times professing Christians) awkwardly smile and give in to the child's demand. Sometimes you can hear parents negotiate with the child, attempting to get him to "speak politely" to them. I recall my children's faces when they would see this dynamic played out. They would appear conflicted, as though they wished they had such freedom to rule our household. They would, however, inevitably announce later, "That child really needed a spanking." I would point out to them that they were correct in their assessment that the boy or girl really needed disciplining, but I would add, "Truth be told, the parents need a spanking!"

My children were taught that if a parent failed to discipline a child, that child had a parent who hated him because the Bible teaches: "He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Prov. 13:24 NKJV).

Why do modern parents tolerate the tantrums, rudeness, defiance, and rebellion of their children? Why do they pursue a policy of appeasement, often handling a defiant outburst with a piece of candy or a new toy?  Blame can be laid at the doorstep of the anti-spanking experts who have polluted the culture by making corporal punishment synonymous with child abuse, thereby creating justifiable fear in parents that public disciplining may get them in trouble with the law or Child Protective Services. While there are a number of societal causes that contribute to the status quo, much needs to be laid at the doorsteps of the church that fails to teach God's law-word in its fullest application.

The Word of God warns us that foolishness is bound up in the hearts of children (Prov. 22:15), and those who fail to honor their God-given authority will reap the consequences of an undisciplined life (Deut. 5:16). Parents who ignore the Bible's instructions to identify, reprove, and correct rebellion and defiance in their children bear responsibility for the actions and outcomes of those children even into adulthood. Those who are not self-consciously submitted to the authority of God, who operate without a Biblical understanding of the family, and who approach parenthood as a make-up-the-rules-as-you-go activity, scandalize their children by being unfaithful representatives.1 With all the excellent resources available to instruct how to discipline Biblically, parents are doubly without excuse.

The Root of the Problem

A warped understanding of the purpose of marriage contributes to our modern parenting failures. Sadly, many decide to marry without a Biblical understanding that the family is God's basic institution of society and that God's plan for discipling the nations begins with the fruit of the womb. Couples and their parents often give more attention to the color scheme at the wedding and the favors the guests will receive, than what the Bible says about the creation of a new Christian family. They approach their marriage with the assumption that it will evolve and progress naturally without much direct instruction from the Word.

In Genesis 1:28, God instructs Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply-in other words, to have children. Many enter marriage with something other than this dominion mandate in mind and have elevated other priorities ahead of bringing children into the world: finishing school, establishing themselves in a career, buying a house, or traveling the world. The uncertainties of our day encourage the decision to wait on children as does the huge debt from student loans, coupled with little or no prospect of employment.2

Modern culture supports these decisions to wait because, although not stated outright, there is the prevailing opinion that once children arrive on the scene, freedom and autonomy cease. This is the foundation for abortion being a woman's right. A culture of death encourages divorcing sexual intimacy from marriage and marriage from the bearing of children. If a Christian man and woman do not consider themselves ready to become parents, they should re-evaluate the purpose of getting married.

Psalm 127 reads:

1. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

3. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

4. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.

5. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Why would Christian couples not want to receive God's reward and blessing of children? People only refuse gifts they don't consider valuable. God does not describe children as a financial drain. In God's economy children are deemed a blessing. The Psalmist specifies the reward as God-given. Happiness and contentment come to the man who has many children. The Psalmist describes offspring as having an important role in the defense against enemies at the gate. We should view these enemies as God's enemies and the children as covenant soldiers advancing the work of the Kingdom in the face of opposition (v. 5).3

Ready or Not?

Christian couples and their families need to re-examine what constitutes readiness for marriage. The Bible points to some necessary prerequisites: the man must be able to demonstrate his capacity to support his wife and future children, (the dowry demonstrated this),4 the wife should be physically ready to bear children and be able to look well to the ways of her household (Ps. 128:3, Prov. 31).

In our culture, the first years of marriage have replaced the betrothal period of the past. This entire period was to complete the necessary prerequisites for marriage. Only after meeting the requirements would the couple be deemed ready to marry. Because we ignore the Biblical marital guidelines, Christian marriage is often reduced to a "legal" sexual relationship.

The Christian marriage contract has a third partner, God Almighty, who places a high premium on covenant children (Ruth 4:11).5 A man should be established in his calling and ready to support his wife and future children, so that there are no earthly impediments to "filling his quiver." The priority is such that a man was to refrain from starting a business or serving in the military within the first year of marriage to focus on his wife and the creation of his family. Deuteronomy 24:5 states,

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.

Rushdoony points out,

The bridegroom cannot be involved in military or civil duties. This is a requirement of very great importance because it clearly indicates the priority of the family to the nation. Religious institutions are not mentioned, because crises in such spheres are a rarity, whereas crises in national life are commonplace. No national crises can take precedence over the new marriage. Because the family is most important in God's sight, it must always be protected. The Vulgate gives an interesting reading: the groom shall "rejoice (or, take pleasure) with the wife of his youth." He is free, literally, "for his own household." He has a duty under God to establish a family as a physical and spiritual entity.6

In God's economy, the first year of marriage is to establish the family, recognizing that this supersedes business or national defense. This is a far cry from the perspective that eschews and postpones the arrival of children. If children are not eagerly anticipated, within the context of a Biblical framework, it is not a surprise that child rearing problems arise when the children arrive. With God's authority being dismissed, is it any wonder that parental authority is diminished?

Who Says So?

Authority on the human scene is closely tied to status or position, but it cannot be equated with status. To illustrate, parenthood is a natural fact; giving birth to a child gives the status of a parent to the father and mother. Authority, however, is not derived from this natural fact but from God's command. "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee" (Ex. 20:12). This is a law from God which promises long life as a gift from God for obedience. Moreover, the commandment here is to adults to honor, not to children, who are commanded more specifically to obey (Eph. 6:1). This law has no true analogue in the world of nature.
This means that parents who seek to command their children naturalistically deny they have religious authority. Such mothers will tell their children of the "trauma" of conception and birth, and all their "sacrifices" for their children, and the fathers will recount how much time and money their children have cost them. The children are unimpressed: they didn't ask to be born, and none of these facts give the parents any true authority. Authority is a religious fact, and unless it is religiously grounded, it quickly disappears.7

Back to our tyrant-in-the-making child who has no healthy fear of his parents. Every child is born with this wickedness in his heart which manifests itself as he gains new abilities. If parents do not stand on the firm foundation of God's law, they either take the path of least resistance by submitting to the child's dictates, or they can become heavy-handed and abusive.

When I informed my children that the parents who failed to correct their children hated them, I had Scriptural backing: Hebrews 12:6, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." If this method of correction is good enough for God the Father, parents should not hesitate to apply such discipline when necessary. Furthermore, consistent application early on in a child's life has the added benefit of becoming less and less necessary as the child matures.

Today's explanations on the "bad" behaviors of children are manifold and have been dosed out to us by child psychologists with expressions/excuses such as the terrible twos, the teenage years, or boys will be boys. Charles Spurgeon does not agree.

The proverb is, "Boys will be boys," but I do not think so. They will be men, if we let them have time; unless they learn self-restraint and habits of obedience while they are boys, they are not likely to make good men. He who cannot obey is not fit to rule; he who has never learned to submit, will make a tyrant when he obtains the power. It is good that every child should be broken in, delivered from his foolish self-will, and made to feel that he has superiors, masters, and governors, and then, when it shall come to his turn to be a leader and a master he will have the more kindly fellow-feeling to those who are under him.8

Children pick up very early on if their parents' profession of faith matches their actions. Parents who refuse God's authority cannot lead their children to obey them or God. Irresponsible, self-indulgent adults come from somewhere; they don't just develop from out of the blue. The fabric of society, whether functional or dysfunctional, comes out of the context of family life.

Training for Governing

Training for government in church, state, and other areas is in Scripture essentially within the family. This is apparent in two key texts. First, in every Passover service, beginning with the very first in Egypt, the instruction and participation of the sons was a requirement. Every religious festival had an element of instruction in it, and it was essential in all things that the children be reared in the essentials and fundamentals of the faith. God so requires it (Ex. 12:26-27; Ex. 13:8-14).9
The Hebrew child participated in the Passover Service. The Christian child took part in communion, for the first eight centuries everywhere, and the practice had some prevalence still into the fourteenth century. It was clearly seen as essential that the covenant child understand the meaning of salvation and that as early as possible share the responsibility of the redeemed. He was taught to ask the question, because it was his responsibility to give an answer for his faith. This kind of training appears also in Joshua 4:6 where the question, "What mean ye by these stones?" requires the answer of teaching God's saving power.10

The question from the youngest child and resultant answer from the father is all part of the training that teaches the child that he/she has been born into a context, an already organized and ordered life. The significance of having the youngest child ask the question is so that all within the household of faith would learn, and be expected to know, the meaning behind the symbolism. To exclude children from a knowledgeable participation in the faith cripples them. How are they to understand that failing to obey will shorten their lives, if they have not been taught and then held accountable?

This theme repeats throughout the Scripture but is emphatically driven home in Psalm 78, especially verses 1-8:

1. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

3. Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

4. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.

5. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:

6. That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

7. That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

8. And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.

Rushdoony comments,

This whole psalm cites the lessons of history which parents must teach their children; the history lessons are illustrations of God's judgments and are to be a part of the teaching of God's law. Life must be built upon the law of God, the psalmist says, and the law must be taught to children: this is God's requirement. Without the law, and the examples of God's judgment on law-breakers in Scripture, history will be the continuing and weary round of judgment on unconfronted covenant-breakers. Even more, it is not merely knowledge of the law, but a life of faithfulness which is required. The goal is "that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments" (v. 7).11

Biblical Expectations

Question #104 in the Heidelberg Catechism reads, What does God require in the fifth Commandment? The answer: That I show all honor, love and faithfulness to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me; submit myself with due obedience to all their good instruction and correction, and also bear patiently with their infirmities, since it is God's will to govern us by their hand.

Authority begins for us in the home. God places parents over children. All children are to show "honor, love and faithfulness" to their parents. Ephesians 6:1-3 gives the New Testament interpretation of this commandment. God's promise of blessing to obedient children still stands! Disobedient children are wicked children who are preparing themselves for ungodly lives and eventually hell, if they do not repent.12

Honor thy father and thy mother is the first commandment with a promise, and must be established early on in a child's life. Without doing so, children are trapped in a sinful cycle that promises to shorten their days and their parents become accomplices in their dire end. Conversely, when couples eagerly anticipate God's blessing of children and steward these lives into obedient service, they will receive the mercy unto thousands of them that keep the commandments of God. This is how the Kingdom is forwarded.

1. Thanks to Rev. Mike O'Donovan of Rock of Liberty Church in Fort Worth, TX ( in a recent exposition of Lord's Day 39 from the Heidelberg Catechism.

2. Interestingly enough, many married couples would be astonished and possibly offended to discover that their reasons for holding off on having children mirror almost exactly the reasons offered by abortion-minded women who claim that abortion is their only option due to these same considerations.

3. Rev. Mike O'Donovan has an interesting view on v. 3. His take is that the reward belongs to God as much as it is given by God. So, in essence, the decision to hold off on having children is depriving God of what is lawfully His.

4. Ex. 22:16 speaks of the bride-price as normative. This is not the purchase of a woman as chattel property, but an indication of the man's commitment and ability to assume the role of husband.

5. The absence of children in a marriage is lamented by many prominent women of the Bible (e.g. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah), or in some cases presented as a sign of judgment (Michal).

6. R .J. Rushdoony, Deuteronomy (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2008), 372.

7. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994) 1140-1141.

8. The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons, Parts 249-260, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

9. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 683-684.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid

12. Rev. Norman L. Jones, Study Helps on The Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed Church in the U.S., Publications Committee, 1981).